Research Papers: Gerotarget (Focus on Aging):

Long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with biological aging

Cavin K. Ward-Caviness, Jamaji C. Nwanaji-Enwerem, Kathrin Wolf, Simone Wahl, Elena Colicino, Letizia Trevisi, Itai Kloog, Allan C. Just, Pantel Vokonas, Josef Cyrys, Christian Gieger, Joel Schwartz, Andrea A. Baccarelli, Alexandra Schneider and Annette Peters _

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:74510-74525. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.12903

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Cavin K. Ward-Caviness1, Jamaji C. Nwanaji-Enwerem2, Kathrin Wolf1, Simone Wahl1,3, Elena Colicino4, Letizia Trevisi5, Itai Kloog6, Allan C. Just7, Pantel Vokonas8, Josef Cyrys1, Christian Gieger1,3, Joel Schwartz2, Andrea A. Baccarelli4, Alexandra Schneider1 and Annette Peters1

1 Institute of Epidemiology II, Helmholtz Zentrum München, Neuherberg, Bavaria, Germany

2 Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA

3 Research Unit Molecular Epidemiology, Helmholtz Zentrum München, Neuherberg, Bavaria, Germany

4 Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA

5 Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

6 Department of Geography and Environmental Development, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel

7 Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY, USA

8 VA Normative Aging Study, Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System and the Department of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA

Correspondence to:

Annette Peters, email:

Keywords: epigenetic aging, telomere length, biological aging, air pollution, black carbon, Gerotarget

Received: June 10, 2016 Accepted: October 13, 2016 Published: October 25, 2016


Long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with age-related diseases. We explored the association between accelerated biological aging and air pollution, a potential mechanism linking air pollution and health. We estimated long-term exposure to PM10, PM2.5, PM2.5 absorbance/black carbon (BC), and NOx via land-use regression models in individuals from the KORA F4 cohort. Accelerated biological aging was assessed using telomere length (TeloAA) and three epigenetic measures: DNA methylation age acceleration (DNAmAA), extrinsic epigenetic age acceleration (correlated with immune cell counts, EEAA), and intrinsic epigenetic age acceleration (independent of immune cell counts, IEAA). We also investigated sex-specific associations between air pollution and biological aging, given the published association between sex and aging measures. In KORA an interquartile range (0.97 µg/m3) increase in PM2.5 was associated with a 0.33 y increase in EEAA (CI = 0.01, 0.64; P = 0.04). BC and NOx (indicators or traffic exposure) were associated with DNAmAA and IEAA in women, while TeloAA was inversely associated with BC in men. We replicated this inverse BC-TeloAA association in the Normative Aging Study, a male cohort based in the USA. A multiple phenotype analysis in KORA F4 combining all aging measures showed that BC and PM10 were broadly associated with biological aging in men. Thus, we conclude that long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with biological aging measures, potentially in a sex-specific manner. However, many of the associations were relatively weak and further replication of overall and sex-specific associations is warranted.

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